Could made-to-order be the future of fashion?

Bec Oakes 19 April 2022

Could this business model shift be the answer to the fashion industry’s overproduction and overconsumption problems? Our fashion columnist investigates

It shouldn’t come as news to anyone that the planet is hurtling towards a climate emergency. And the fashion industry certainly plays its part in this. 

While exact figures are the topic of much debate, in 2020, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated that the industry produces ten per cent of annual global carbon dioxide emissions and is estimated to use around 1.5 trillion litres of water every year. The industry’s environmental impact is greatly exacerbated by fast fashion. These brands, which release hundreds of new styles every week, have caused trends cycles to speed up exponentially, leading to a gross level of overproduction and overconsumption.

"The industry’s environmental impact is greatly exacerbated by fast fashion"

British shoppers are buying twice as much as we did a decade ago and quicker trend turnarounds mean both brands and consumers are disposing of “unfashionable” clothing more often—over £300,000 of it ends up in landfill every year. If this rate of consumption continues, it’s estimated that by 2050, fashion will account for more than a quarter of our total impact on climate change. But how do we solve this issue? One answer lies in the new generation of made-to-order brands making their way into the mainstream.

These brands do exactly what they say on the tin—making clothes only as and when they’re ordered. It’s a far more sustainable approach, and because there’s no overproduction, less unwanted stock ends up in landfills.

It also promotes a slower fashion model, with pieces taking between three weeks and three months to arrive once purchased. Its focus is on creating special, well-made pieces for consumers to treasure for years to come. 

Made-to-order fashion is nothing new. Until the mid-20th century, it was the norm. Western consumers either made their own clothes or purchased items made specifically for them. However, the 1960s brought about the dawn of fast fashion and a shift in our relationship with our clothes.

The value once placed on craftsmanship and quality was replaced by the desire for low cost and volume, starting a vicious cycle of cut-cost manufacturing (bad quality and bad ethics) and the attitude that clothing should be cheap and disposable.

Of course, made-to-order fashion has continued to exist alongside this, but research by the likes of the IPCC clearly shows that fast fashion reigns supreme. Cue a new age of made-to-order brands bringing bespoke back to the mainstream. MaisonCléo is a French clothing company founded by mother-and-daughter duo Nathalie and Marie.

The brand’s vintage-inspired pieces are made exclusively from dead stock fabrics and can be ordered in either standard sizing or tailor-made. They take limited orders each week which are then handmade and delivered in approximately three weeks.

Alongside a slow business model and responsibly sourced fabrics, MaisonCléo also advocates for fair and transparent pricing. While their pieces cost considerably more than fast fashion’s offering—prices range between €30 and €450—the prices and profit margins are explained on every product page to normalise how much it costs to produce ethically.

"Alongside a slow business model and responsibly sourced fabrics, MaisonCléo also advocates for fair and transparent pricing"

Spanish brand Alohas’ business model revolves around an on-demand production process that rewards consumers for “pre-planned responsible shopping.” Every week, they launch a new drop, available to pre-order for a discounted rate for a limited time.

From pre-order, Alohas determines how popular each new item is and calculates how many units should be produced to fulfil both pre-orders and future full-price orders, therefore reducing the overproduction of stock.

Buying from such brands certainly demands patience. Nonetheless, they attract loyal customer bases with their social and environmental responsibility, impeccable craftsmanship and evergreen styles. 
With made-to-order brands rapidly growing in popularity, it begs the question—could this be the dawn of a new, environmentally responsible era? I certainly hope so.

With overproduction and overconsumption fuelling a real climate crisis, a return to the bespoke clothing of yesteryear could be the future of fashion our planet sorely needs.

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